RALEIGH, N.C. In a groundbreaking move, Wake Forest University will no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores for admission, school officials will announce Tuesday.
Wake Forest will become the only top 30 national university in the U.S. News & World Report ranking to make the standardized tests optional. The policy change takes effect with the freshman class starting in 2009.
University officials say they changed their policy after reviewing extensive research that shows the tests favor wealthy students and aren't the best predictors of college success.
"We think it's the fair and right thing for us to do," said Martha Allman, director of admissions. "We're concerned that (the SAT) is a barrier to some students we very much want to bring to Wake Forest University."
Students can still choose to submit their test scores for consideration, and Allman expects many to do so. But admissions decisions will be based on high school curriculum and grades, combined with written essays, extracurricular activities and evidence of character and talent.
And the university will now encourage students to do a personal interview with admissions staff, either by face-to-face meeting or virtually using a computer.
In education circles, the debate has long simmered about the value of the SAT a key factor used by elite universities to weed out applicants. Studies have shown that standardized tests tend to have built-in racial and socioeconomic biases.
There is a growing movement of colleges and universities that de-emphasize the test. FairTest, a watchdog organization that monitors standardized testing and advocates for alternatives, counts about 760 schools that don't require the SAT or ACT. In recent years, highly regarded liberal arts colleges in the Northeast have joined the trend.
But Wake Forest's decision is significant because of its reputation and its location in the Southeast, where fewer colleges have dropped the test requirement, said Robert Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest.
"This extends the test optional movement to a very competitive national university," Schaeffer said. "It's very big news. Wake Forest is to be commended for adopting the policy. It sends a message that this is a policy that can be pursued not just at smaller, intimate colleges but at larger colleges where more applications have to be reviewed."
This year, Wake Forest received more than 9,000 applications and expects 1,200 freshmen to enroll this fall. Allman said the 12-person admissions staff would work to interview more prospective students during summer college tours and during visits to high schools. Trained alumni may also help conduct interviews.
The policy may come as a relief to talented students with good grades but lackluster test scores. "There are some students who are very strong in other ways that don't test well," Allman said.
Colleges that have made the tests optional have seen a spike in applications and a more racially and economically diverse applicant pool, said Joseph Soares, associate professor of sociology at Wake Forest and author of "The Power of Privilege: Yale and America's Elite Colleges."